Mason Malmuth Points Finger at Daniel Negreanu for Stalled Compromise on PokerStars SNE Benefits

Steve Ruddock : December 14th, 2015


During a recent appearance on Joey Ingram’s Poker Life Podcast, founder Mason Malmuth put forth an interesting, and quite logical, rationalization for PokerStars’ head scratching (in my opinion) reluctance to quash their highly controversial plan to reduce Supernova Elite benefits in 2016 for players who achieved the status in 2015.

Malmuth’s theory is that because Daniel Negreanu began to speak publicly about it, including intimating publicly (and stating privately) he might resign from PokerStars if the change went into effect, and because he publicly interjected himself into the situation and claimed to be negotiating for the players behind the scenes, PokerStars’ hands were tied. Meaning, if they gave in, it would appear that it was Negreanu’s intervention, and threat of leaving, that led to the agreement being brokered – Malmuth seems to be of the same opinion as myself, believing PokerStars intention all along was/is to repeal this change.

If Malmuth’s theory is correct, it would help explain why PokerStars has yet to cave on this issue. They simply have to wait until it no longer appears that Negreanu is the driving force behind the site acquiescing to the players. The narrative PokerStars wants is that they are extending an olive branch to the players – an olive branch many believed they have been holding behind their back the entire time.

When will an accord be reached?

There is currently some backchannel chatter that representatives for the high-stakes community will meet with PokerStars executives in the near future. It’s at this meeting, or in the immediate aftermath, that I believe PokerStars will cancel the one announced change that has almost zero support: The SuperNova Elite changes in 2016.

Why the change is so controversial

Of all the changes PokerStars has announced, the one change that has garnered almost zero support is the changes to SuperNova Elite benefits in 2016 for existing SNE players.

The reason this change is controversial is because attaining SuperNova Elite (which requires A LOT of play, and is a major commitment) is marketed as a two year reward program. A player who reaches the SNE level in 2015 is supposed to continue to receive the same rewards for the next calendar year.

What PokerStars has announced is that instead of SNE’s earning upwards of 60% in rakeback rewards, they will be capped at 45% in 2016. So, all of the players that busted their butts to reach SNE in 2015 (which sometimes requires a player to play so many tables that they are losing players) rightfully feel betrayed.

According to some informed analysis I have seen, the drop will cost the average SNE player over $40,000 in 2016, dropping rewards from around $120,000 to around $80,000.

As Daniel Negreanu put it (paraphrasing Negreanu), SNE was advertised throughout 2015 (up until early November) as, do x in 2015 and receive y in 2016, but at the last minute PokerStars has replaced y with z.

Even the people who have applauded PokerStars ecosystem changes have added a caveat expressing their displeasure with the slashing of 2016 SNE benefits for players who achieved the status in 2015.

Maybe everyone needed to take a deep breath

Interestingly, if Malmuth is correct, and Negreanu’s public comments have directly delayed PokerStars’ ability to extend full Supernova Elite benefits through 2016, it would also stand to reason that the player community’s initial reaction (going directly to inflammatory words like “money grab,” “liars,” and “thieves”) also tied PokerStars hands, and likely forced PokerStars to put-off a compromise.

If PokerStars had caved after the initial backlash it would have served to embolden the players to complain about other things, and argue that they were right the last time, so why shouldn’t the poker community at large believe them now? Problem is, their ideas about the poker economy and their role in it is, by most accounts, flawed.

Ditto for the boycott. Once the players decided to boycott it made it impossible for PokerStars to give in to their demands without making the players think they are right about the drivers of the poker economy. This likely delayed PokerStars meeting with the players, as it would have appeared that the meeting was a direct result of the boycott.

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